Contamination of soil, surface water, or groundwater can occur when substances used or produced in energy development are released to the environment. Energy companies must manage any contamination from their licensed activities or approved facilities. Potential contamination and remediation (managing or removing contaminated material) is considered throughout a project’s life cycle, from application to project closure. The AER has the authority to take enforcement action against operators that fail to manage contamination, particularly if the contamination results in damage to the environment or impairs public health. Releases can be of short or long duration; however, they must be reported immediately upon discovery to the AER. The brochure Release Reporting Requirements summarizes the AER’s reporting requirements.

When a new or historical release is discovered, the AER works with the licensee to ensure that the contamination is appropriately managed. This includes minimizing risks by ensuring accessible contamination is contained and controlled and residual contamination is managed through an appropriate risk management plan.

Adequately managing contamination includes

  • containing and controlling the source of contamination,
  • delineating the extent of the spill both horizontally and vertically,
  • ensuring receptors are not adversely impacted at any point during remediation, and
  • remediating the contamination in a timely manner.

The AER uses a risk ranking process to prioritize its audit of oil and gas activities for contamination management. Risks that are considered include what and who could be affected by contamination, the probability of contamination as a result of the activity, and the area of Alberta in which the activity occurs.

The most effective method for remediating an area and managing contamination depends on the situation. The AER prefers that in situ remedial techniques be explored in favour of soil excavations, minimizing the amount of soil sent to landfills. In situ techniques involve managing or treating the contaminated material in place. Contaminated material treated in situ is not considered oilfield waste.

In certain situations, ex situ treatment may be the best remedial option. This means that licensees manage or treat contaminated material by excavating or removing the material. Contaminated material that is treated or disposed of ex situ is considered oilfield waste and must be disposed of in accordance with Directive 058: Oilfield Waste Management Requirements for the Upstream Petroleum Industry.